If tonight’s midnight deadline to sign draft choices ends how they hope and think it will, then the Nationals will have finished off what they believe to be the most meaningful draft in the franchise’s short history.
The Nationals still have to sign their first five draft picks, the first three of whom are represented by Scott Boras — infielder Anthony Rendon (Rice infielder, No. 6 overall), Alex Meyer (Kentucky right-handed pitcher, No. 23), Brian Goodwin (Miami Dade outfielder, No. 34), Matt Purke (TCU left-handed pitcher, No. 96) and Kylin Turnbull (Santa Barbara City College left-handed pitcher, No. 127). But their outward expectation is that they will by midnight.
Of course, none of those players individually compare to Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper, the first overall picks the Nationals signed to record-breaking contracts the previous two seasons. Simply signing those players injected legitimacy into the franchise while creating a buzz and optimism never before present.
Collectively, though, the Nationals feel that the collection of talent they selected this year, in an incredibly deep draft, could make an even more significant impact in regard to on-field performance. One month before the draft, they assumed Rendon would be drafted first, then he fell to them at No. 6. Vice President of Player Personnel Roy Clark said they would have considered taking Meyer — a 6-foot-9 fireballer whose fastball has hit 100 miles per hour — with the sixth pick. Before Purke slid because of health and signability concerns, he was a consensus top-five pick. Purke may carry a risk, but every draft pick is in some way a lottery ticket. Why not buy one with the biggest jackpot?
The reason I think all five picks will sign today is that the Nationals have done this before and know how it works. You can criticize Mike Rizzo about a few things, but running a draft, especially since he became the general manager, isn’t one of them. If he didn’t think the Nationals could or would sign these players, then he would not have chosen them. It’s what Rizzo built his professional career on.
The Nationals broke the bank last year, signing Sammy Solis, Robbie Ray, A.J. Cole and, of course, Harper for well over the MLB recommended slot signing bonus. Even without a first overall pick, this year’s signing bonus may exceed that. Back before the draft, owner Mark Lerner said he anticipated taking chances on players who would be tough to sign. Ownership is committed to building through the draft — which means handing out big bonuses. Because of the two high picks the Nationals received for losing Adam Dunn — which turned into Meyer and Goodwin — they will be handing out some serious money tonight.
It’s not a given that the Nationals will get all of their top five picks signed, especially Purke, who, as explained yesterday, is something of a unique case. But if they do, it will be a very good — and expensive — day for the Nationals.